Manufacturer's View: Addressing the Problem of Inexperience

I started my tool career in 1977 as a District Manager (field salesman) for Klein Tools in Pittsburgh and am proud to say I am still in the hand tool business, now as President of KNIPEX Tools in North America. I guess you could say with 37 years under my somewhat larger belt, I’ve seen a lot of changes in our industry: 800 numbers, fax, home centers, personal computers, the internet, worldwide economy, VMI, grey hair, GPS to find those hidden customers, mega distributors, Amazon, Skype, social media, and many more. Depending our your stomach for change you can look upon these “newfangled ideas” as good or bad, but I must admit that the professional hand tool business has been growing pretty steadily for manufacturers and distributors alike who have accepted these changes and used them. Yet, there are still manufacturers who are afraid of these new sales and marketing aids and the newer channels of distribution.  

Recently I was asked by a heavy duty product manufacturer about selling through Amazon. I told him he already was on Amazon and just didn’t know it. We got online, went to Amazon, typed in his product name, and there it was — as big as life. After that, and a few calls to customers who already thought he was on Amazon, he is now a stocked vendor at Amazon.

Another manufacturer recently called and asked if I thought he should look into sending out email blasts to his customers and prospects. Certainly, I answered yes. With an email list of over 10,000 names and an open rate of almost 40 percent, we would be hard to find a more focused marketing tool.

With all these changes and advancements, the thing I see at many distributors that concerns me are the untrained and inexperienced employees who are being put in positions of responsibility and the revolving door of position tenure. We have huge distributor customers who change product managers as often as I change my socks! One mega distributor has had seven buyer changes in four years. We have many distributors who bring in a new employee right out of school, put them in a product management or marketing position even though they have no idea what a customer looks like, smells like, or what getting an order even tastes like. They simply look at their computers and make inexperienced decisions all day. Experience provides you with the ability to see through and understand trends in our industry. Product or purchasing managers with a strong financial background certainly can see the short term bottom line impact of their decisions; however, looking back and reviewing trends and how they can impact the future becomes cloudier with the less knowledgeable employee.

Yes the sales, profit, co-op, and rebate numbers are great guidelines to managing product lines, but EXPERIENCE in the industry, continuity, and relationships are what make the whole thing work well. There is not a salesperson out there that hasn’t run in to one, and probably both, of the following scenarios.

Scenario 1: A manufacturer takes back some inventory he probably shouldn’t have – as a favor – and is promised a promotion in the next quarter. The buyer changes jobs or leaves the company. The new buyer knows nothing about the promise and no promotion is ordered. Result: the manufacturer is less likely to trust that distributor again. The distributor loses and so does the manufacturer.

Scenario 2: A manufacturer shows a new, inexperienced buyer a new product that is the next best thing since sliced bread. The inexperienced buyer knows less than nothing about his users and says he has not had any calls for this product and says no. Result: a distributor down the street who has a buyer who knows the customers and what they do puts the new product in and has great success. Now the owner of the first distributor calls the manufacturer, upset that he doesn’t have this product and the relationship takes a negative hit. Again, the distributor loses and so does the manufacturer.

The funny part of this trend is that the managers of these distributors are the same consumers who complain when they go to a big box or department store and can’t find anyone who knows anything about their products or customer’s needs.

Do you have people making important decisions in your business who don’t know their … from first base?

Take the time to on-board these people correctly and thoroughly. Have them spend a month or two in the warehouse, at the sales counter, in the field making sales calls, and even at manufacturers training classes. If you take the time to train and indoctrinate your new employees correctly they will be happier, more productive, and stay with you longer.

Alan Sipe is President and GM, North America – KNIPEX Tools.

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